Thursday, September 04, 2008

Progressives and Obama (Part 2)

On Tuesday night I attended a plenary session of the “solutions-driven conference,” Peace Island: Hope in a Time of Crisis.

This session focused on global peace and non-violence and featured, among others, Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, and Antonia Juhasz, political analyst and author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time and the forthcoming The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop It.

At one point the following question was posed by a member of the audience: Why as progressives should we support Barack Obama instead of a third party candidate such as Cynthia McKinney? After all, McKinney is unapologetically anti-war and, unlike both McCain and Obama, is not beholden to what many would consider to be compromising and corrupting corporate interests.

Following are the responses of Juhasz and Cagan.

Leslie Cagan

It’s wrong to say [as some progressives do] that there is no difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. One of the most important lines, for me, of [Obama’s] speech in Denver last Thursday was when he said: “Change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.” The fact that someone running for president of the United States could even say that gives us an opening, and that’s what we have to seize upon.

[Of course] we should not assume that electing one man to the White House is going to solve all the problems, but there will be an opening for us as an anti-war movement to push harder, insist harder, to make sure, for instance, that the war in Iraq ends. Left on his own, [Obama] will leave troops there, he will leave tens of thousands of troops there. Left on his own, he will expand the war in Afghanistan. Left on his own, I don’t know what he’ll do with Iran. He may talk first and then bomb, instead of going right to bombing. And we can’t let that happen. That is the challenge to us.

I am concerned that if Obama wins there will be a sense among many people in this country that our work is done. No! If Obama is elected our movement needs to be stronger and smarter and larger and push harder.

Antonia Juhasz

One of the things that an Obama presidency would do is, hopefully, provide a potentially more welcoming environment in which we can continue to do our organizing. And so the bottom line is that we continue to do our organizing. Our message never changes. Iraq Veterans Against the War has three demands. Those don’t change when they’re talking to the Obama campaign or the McCain campaign. And neither should ours. We are the peace movement. That is our demand. That is our commitment. That is what we stand for.

We can still support an Obama presidency and be the peace movement, but we have to articulate this in those places were he fails us. We have to challenge, criticize, stand against, organize, go head-to-head with our elected officials. We cannot expect that one of us is going to fill every single seat of every single office. And even if we did, you and I are all in the peace movement but we don’t agree on every other policy issue. So does that mean that we don’t support each other? Because there are lots of things I bet we disagree on significantly, but we might still want to elect each other into office.

What that means is that political leaders don’t embrace every single issue. They create, hopefully, the environment in which we are activists, and within which we organize and speak truth to power. And that is our job.

Above: With Antonia Juhasz (third from left) and my friends
Sue Ann and Kathleen - Tuesday, September 2, 2008.

NEXT: Part 3

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressives and Obama (Part 1)
Historic (and Wild!)
Reality Check
An American Prayer
One of Those Moments
Catholic Democrats

Recommended Off-site Link:
Peace Island - Susu Jeffrey describes her vision of a “solutions-based” conference that is planned for the same time as the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

No comments: